Brighton resident Harriet Cavanagh got involved in community organising when she joined her local community organisers, Dot and Valentina, in running a scheme called Hello Hubs, a space for local people to connect with students in Brighton.
Harriet works for Scope, the disability equality charity, and following her involvement in the Hello Hubs, a number of students who attended ended up volunteering for Scope. Seeing value in the work Dot and Valentina were doing in the area, Harriet learned more about the process of community organising and began to apply the approach in her work.
Funded by People’s Health Trust through its Local People programme, Harriet helped to set up Scope’s Community Engagement programme, which “gives disabled people, their families and unpaid carers the time and space to think about what issues matter to them in their own local community, and the opportunity to take action on them together.” Harriet worked with her local community organisers to identify people who could benefit from the programme, and – rather than setting up projects to meet their needs – she listened to their ideas and concerns and gave them the resources and support they needed to take action themselves.
Gradually, through applying the community organising process, groups started to form and get to know one another; more people came forward with their ideas and a number of projects have been initiated and carried out by programme’s participants. Many of these projects, whilst starting with the self-interest of those initially involved, have gone on to challenge the status quo and begin to create lasting change in the fight for equality for those with disabilities.
One group of parents involved in the programme raised the issue of local swimming facilities being difficult to access with disabled children, so they got together and negotiated a price to run their own swim session at the local pool for disabled children. As a result of this, the leisure centre is now taking direction from the group to improve access to their leisure facilities all across the UK.
Another initiative that came out of the Community Engagement programme was a Disability Pride Brighton group. The group members raised funds to pay for their local community organisers to train them in how to organise effectively, and they developed and coordinated the Disability Pride 2017 event in Brighton & Hove – the first Disability Pride festival in England – which brought together around 2,000 people to celebrate “the diversity and value of disabled people with all (visible and invisible) impairments.”